Domain of Perfect Affection
The title of Robin Becker’s new book is contained in the last line of “Salon,” where the speaker’s mother goes for her weekly respite. In this “domain of perfect affection,” _ … my mother attends to the lifelong business of revealing and withholding, careful to frame each story while Vivienne lacquers each nail and then inspects each slender finger …
Such delicate observations permeate the straightforward observations throughout the collection. Few poets achieve this mastery: Becker makes everyday observations, everyday knowledge, extraordinary. This well-crafted collection shows a hard-earned perspective on contentment, containing numerous examples of what Stephen Dunn calls “credible poetry of affirmation,” and yet, almost as if to combat to that contentment, Becker throws in a number of poems that challenge what peace we have found. Among these poems are the two powerful found poems “Manifest Destinies” (taken from the journals of Lewis and Clark) and “Qualities Boys Like Best in Girls” (taken from a 1960s “home living” guide) and the bizarre, aggressive “Against Pleasure” (“Worry beats me to the kitchen/and all the food is sorry.”).
“The Drawer” perhaps exemplifies this conflict best—it is, fundamentally, a conflict of memory, being content and knowing that it was not always so, and therefore may not always be. In the poem, the speaker sorts through the contents of the drawer and the past, finding finally “photos of the woman/you love and a vial of sacred dirt from the church in Chimayo—/collected the summer you traveled with nothing but a backpack.” From this point, burdened and united with beloved objects, the speaker can see into the complex, often traumatic incidents that pepper the rest of the book.
Domain of Perfect Affection, as a collection, perhaps lacks some of the punch of Becker’s previous books, like Giacometti’s Dog and The Horse Fair, but, at the same time, seems more firmly about the business of living, about the information one must collect and process both to live from day to day and to instigate change. She creates calm and then upsets it, a stunning achievement for any poet.